The Eclectic Prince by Caspar Vega – A Short Book Review

Back on March 14th 2017 I reviewed favorably Mr. Vega’s novella “The Pink Beetle”.  That was the third installment of his “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series.”  The Eclectic Prince is the first installment but the grouping is only thematic and not sequential so you may sample in any order.  As I noted in my earlier book review, Mr. Vega has a very distinct writing style.  He makes sudden transitions and violent plot shifts.  His characters are not introspective but very impulsive and action oriented.  The plot progresses rapidly but rarely linearly.

The first piece of information to convey is that this is an adult book.  There is a fair amount of sexual content that would be entirely inappropriate for even teenagers (in my opinion).  And there are some situations that are fairly disturbing from the point of view of conventional social mores.

Now for some personal information as a point of reference on my taste in books.  Full disclosure, I’m not typically a consumer of dark fiction.  I mostly inhabit the sunnier climes of story-telling.  I will indulge in something like Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs if it’s very well written but it’s not my usual fare.

The Eclectic Prince is relatively dark.  There aren’t any good guys to cheer.  The protagonist at various times indulges in violent assault of a stranger and murder of a family friend.  And there are even darker doings that I will not mention so as not to spoil the story.  Suffice it to say he’s not such a nice guy.  And he’s not even justified in the sense that he’s getting revenge on someone who committed a terrible wrong against him.  He’s just a sociopath.

The outline of the story is episodic and consists of different vignettes that are tied together by the fantasy mechanism that underlines the story.  This mechanism isn’t entirely clear from the text and this vagueness adds to the seeming randomness of the plot.

Let me sum it up.  It’s a dark disturbing story of an unsympathetic protagonist, a kind of story that I would not typically choose to read.

But it’s well written, original and engaging in a transgressive way.  Once again Mr. Vega is in the tradition of a noir type story with a fantasy framework to remove the bizarre story from the realm of reality.  This allows some justification for suspending a very heavy bias against such a disagreeable protagonist.  For those who seek out this type of story I can wholeheartedly recommend it.  It is not for the faint of heart.

I haven’t decided whether to delve deeper into his quartet.  This type of story is, as I stated above, not my typical choice.  But maybe when I’m in a darker mood I’ll venture in again for another dose.

Morning Shmoe 2 – Trump Hates Bannon!!!  Just Saying.

Chris Buskirk over at American Greatness is fast becoming one of my favorite reads.  He had a great article ( https://amgreatness.com/2017/04/15/foolish-choose-morning-joe-crowd-bannon-voters/ ) that has once again inspired me to revisit our friends at Morning Shmoe.

 

Scene: Studio Set at Morning Shmoe

Shmoe Browfurrowed (AKA Morning Shmoe) (MS) – It’s three and a half minutes before the quarter hour and we’re back.  Lycra have you heard the latest evidence about how Trump has already eliminated Steve Bannon and is about to replace him with Barney Frank.

Lycra Spandexy (LS) – No Shmoe, tell me all about it.

MS – Well it’s obvious to anyone paying attention.  Trump is wearing ties.  And as you all know Bannon doesn’t wear a tie.  You do the math!

LS – That’s so true!  Well now that Barney Frank is the virtual president what wonderful changes do you forsee?

MS – As first order of business, Melania will be eliminated as First Lady, either by divorce or deportation and Caitlyn Jenner installed in that position.  Next Ivanka will begin the slow, deliberate process of becoming Ivanko.  After that Trump will begin his transition which will culminate in him grabbing herself.

LS – It just writes itself, doesn’t it Shmoe?

MS – Yeah, sort of.

LS – Shmoe, what do you think caused the original loss of trust between Trump and Bannon.

MS – Well Lycra, we may never truly know but we can speculate.

LS – Can we?

MS – Oh, not only can we but we will.  We’ve still got several hundred words to add before this post is full.

LS – Post?

MS – Nothing, nothing.  Anyway, if you remember during the election it was rumored that Donald Trump had become a werewolf or possibly a loup garou.

LS – Yes, that was definitely a theory that swirled around the press corp.

MS – Well, I recently heard from someone (or possibly from a voice inside my head) that Bannon had become a vampire or some other type of undead.

LS – Well, that would explain a lot of things.

MS – Yes it would Lycra, yes it would.  After all, if Underworld has taught us anything it’s that lycanthropes and vampires are always enemies.  Also, we haven’t seen Bannon during the day recently.  And he is obviously suffering from a skin condition brought on by his vampiric aversion to sunlight.

LS – Of course, why didn’t I realize this before?

MS – Because it’s only obvious after a great mind points it out.

LS – Oh Shmoe, you are wise.  But where do we go from here.  Now that progressives are firmly in charge of the US executive branch again what is the next order of business?

MS – There are so many Obama initiatives that are languishing and that need a few trillions of taxpayer dollars to really perk up.  I would say that a new cabinet level department is the first order of business.  The Department of Black Lives Matter is the unofficial name I heard mentioned (by a voice in my head) but the name is secondary.  The important thing is eliminating this whole law enforcement and justice concept that has somehow infected our government for too long.

LS – Shmoe, that’s marvelous.  And to think, the Trump administration hasn’t even acknowledged Bannon’s departure yet.  What are they waiting for?

MS – I would guess it has to do with the cycles of the moon.  Lycanthrope/vampire interactions are far from an exact science.  My guess is the announcement will occur at the new moon.  That’s April 26th to you normals.

LS – Shmoe, isn’t it great to be living in this best of all possible worlds?

MS – Yes it is Lycra, Yes it is.

 

The Last 1360 Days of the Trump Presidency

Bring ‘em Back Alive by Frank Buck – A Short Review

I’m going to reference this post under both Science Fiction and Fantasy and Current Events.  Under either category an error is being committed.  But that’s the great thing about being the proprietor.  You can break the rules when it suits you.  Frank Buck was a wild animal importer back in the nineteen twenties and thirties.  He brought back never before seen creatures to Europe and America for zoos and circuses and other exhibitors.  He brought in the first Indian rhinos out of Nepal when that country was as isolated and inaccessible as the Moon is now.  His stories are full of hair-raising escapes from tigers and cobras and he fills them with exotic people from India and Southeast Asia.    The language and the characterizations of these non-western people is extremely politically incorrect even by the standards of fifty years ago.  But they are probably closer to reality than the current over-sensitive portrayals of non-western customs in the “thou shalt not offend the non-westerner” popular press.

Now the case for putting this under sf&f is because it ties into the movies King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.  These movies are demonstrably some amalgam of sf&f.  The fantasy of an adventurer heading off into the uncharted jungles of the still partially untamed world and bringing back some fantastic and almost mythological creature is in part based on the popularity of Frank Buck’s stories in “Bring ‘em Back Alive.”  He goes into these jungles and using contacts with the local inhabitants locates and captures these legendary creatures.  Now granted, capturing a verified man-eating tiger or the largest orangutan is a lot less spectacular than fighting dinosaurs or shooting a fifty-foot gorilla off the Empire State Building.  But in the imagination of kids in the 1930s both were more exciting than going to school or working at a shoe factory.

Reading these stories recently, I am struck by the certainty that many of the details have been exaggerated to make the story more exciting.  This is especially true of the poetic justice that catches up to a cruel Maharajah in the story Tiger Revenge.  Also, it is amazing to see how primitive the methods for transporting these amazing creatures were back in the 1920s.  Tropical primates like orangutans were loaded onto freighters that took weeks to cross the Pacific Ocean and the conditions in the hold or on the deck were pretty bad.  Add into this equation storms or even typhoons and it’s amazing that he got anything “back alive.”  If any of the practices employed in those times were used today the ASPCA and the local animal welfare agencies would call for the death penalty for the importers.

But the stories are interesting and exciting on their own terms.  In one story a tiger trapper is caught in his own leg trap.  He is trapped out in the jungle at night with mosquitoes torturing him, ants attacking his wounded leg and the threat of jungle predators all around him with nothing to defend himself with if they attack and no way to escape.  Is the story true.  I doubt there is any way to know.  But the tale is compelling.

There are about twenty of these stories.  Most linked only by the presence of the author and a few other supporting characters like Frank’s Malay “boy” Ali (actually a man in his fifties) who assists him in his adventures and the directors at the zoos and circuses that were his clients.

My father read this book in the 1930s.  He gave it to me in the 1960s.  And I’ve given copies to my grandsons and nephews in the 2010s.  It seems to have a universal appeal to the male animal.  I recommend it highly.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

In the first installment of this post I documented my education into the real world of scientists, how they saved the world from giant mutated insects and invented important stuff like flying cars. That time period was the 1960s. It was a carefree time full of youthful high jinx such as race riots and the Manson Family. Fast forward thirty years to 1993. A little movie came out called Matinee. It was about the 1960s. The movie employs a device that I like to call “a movie within a movie.” It’s called that because within the movie you are watching there is a movie being watched by the characters in the movie! It’s a wild concept.

The name of this internal movie is MANT. That’s a portmanteau for man-ant. The eponymous victim of this movie has been transformed from a man into a hybrid man/ ant creature. Once again radiation is involved and eventually the MANT reaches gigantic proportions. And right on schedule arrives the scientist that has glasses and a beard and explains all the technical jargon about this scientific problem. And by an amazing coincidence it’s our old friend Dr. “You’re Wiser Than We Are” from “The Thing from Another World” (Robert Cornthwaite). I mean, what are the odds? He makes such valuable pronouncements as “human/insect mutations are far from an exact science” and “My friend, you’ve suffered some of the worst that our little friend the atom has to offer. It can power a city or level it!”

I was fascinated by the changes I noted in Cornthwaite between the time he was in “The Thing” and “Mant”. No longer was he sympathetic toward the monsters. His allegiance had shifted back to humanity. I attributed this change to the smoldering resentment he felt after the Thing back-handed him into a wall in the earlier movie. Such ingratitude by the monster pushed our friend back into the Humanity First camp once again. I knew this was valuable information. I wrote it down!
Outside of the movie Mant (but inside of Matinee) a teenage girl (played by Lisa Jakub) is swept up in the drama surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis (and the premiere of Mant) in the southern Florida town of Key West. This girl is the daughter of beatniks and she has her world view changed by exposure to a young Navy brat who also happens to like horror movies. When the movie ends Lisa has gotten over her prejudices against military families and monster movies. What does this have to do with this post? Well it does link us back to the military but hang in there. I have another half-baked segue coming up.
Fast forward to 1998 and a blockbuster called Independence Day erupts onto the cinematic stage. Now it just so happens that there is an ex-Navy pilot named Russel Kay and by a strange coincidence (or is it) his daughter is played by Lisa Jakub! But her love of a navy brat in the last movie has landed her in this movie in a family headed by a delusional alcoholic ex-military flier. Although it’s not apparent how she feels about horror movies she definitely suffers some of the worst of what our friends the aliens have to offer. In Independence Day, the role of scientist is handled by Jeff Goldblum. He is an environmentalist computer scientist who’s always worried about recycling and is totally opposed to nuking the aliens. He’s worried that fallout is worse than extermination of the entire human race by death rays. But by the end of the movie he comes around and cheerfully nukes the aliens on their home base.
I was thinking of dragging this forward by following President Whitmore forward into Lake Placid (well the crocodile is very large) or following Jeff Goldblum into Jurassic Park and Independence Day 2 which has all kinds of scientific mumbo-jumbo and giant creatures but I’m getting tired.
Suffice it to say that even really stupid people and fat-headed scientists can see reality if monsters and giant insects start slapping them around.
And now my patient readers, the payoff.
All of this research has allowed me to formulate a unified theory of scientific behavior. Apparently all scientists are morons and can only learn about reality by being hit over the head by it. Therefore, I propose a new policy. Whenever a scientist dictates a policy based on fat-headed stupidity he should be forced to endure the solution himself until he either sees the error of his way or dies from the paradox of settled science.
For instance, if a climate scientist declares CO2 the death of the planet then he should not produce any of it himself. Now, I don’t propose that he cease breathing. Even though technically respiration is nothing but exchanging O2 for CO2. Let’s just let him slide on the breathing. But that’s all. No internal combustion engines or heating systems or electricity. In fact, nothing produced by technology supported by the industrial revolution. So that also eliminates batteries and solar cells and everything else made in a factory. And finally, I remind everyone that burning coal or oil or even wood produces CO2. So, this scientist is telling us to give up every bit of science going all the way back to the paleolithic age. So, let us limit our friend the scientist to killing fur-bearing animals and eating their flesh and wearing their pelts for warmth. Of course, he’s probably a vegan but we all have to make compromises when inconsistencies crop up.
That’s my plan in a nutshell. It should be amusing to see Al Gore dressed like Fred Flintstone and trying to catch a squirrel for breakfast.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 1

On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid I used to watch Million Dollar Movie on Channel 11 and was able to enjoy such science fiction classics as “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”  Right away I figured out that really big creatures that had been exposed to atomic radiation really liked to attack.  But as I became more sophisticated in my sci-fi viewing I eschewed such childish cinematic offerings in favor of more cerebral tales.  No more ridiculous giant crab stories.  I graduated to “Them” which is the realistic depiction of an attack by giant ants exposed to atomic radiation.  In this classic of the fifties I learned that scientists were old and wore glasses and looked like Santa Claus (except for the girl scientists who were young and didn’t even look like Mrs. Claus and tended to end up with the FBI agent who starred in the film, who in this case was James Arness of Gunsmoke fame).  And the best ones had British accents (or at worst New England accents).  Also, no matter what their area of specialization (e.g., physics, botany or myrmecology) they were all equally adept at battling giant creatures exposed to atomic radiation.  And they were full of esoteric and valuable information.  I found out that the plural of antenna wasn’t antennas but rather antennae!  This inspired in me a life-long love of the classical Greek and Latin languages.  And the most important characteristic of scientists was their love of knowledge.  Because of this thirst for knowledge, they were willing to venture into tunnels and basements where even the ubiquitous soldiers in their WWII vintage uniforms were afraid to go.  It also meant the scientists were very likely to be munched on by the mutant du jour of the story.  But you know, science.  So that is how I came to admire scientists.  They were cool and smart too.  And they always, always, always figured out how to kill the monsters.

But one Saturday, Million Dollar Movie was playing another sci-fi film, “The Thing from Another World.”  I was suspicious at first.  If it was from another world how did it get here?  Had it been exposed to atomic radiation?  Would there be enough scientists?  These doubts plagued me.  But I decided to give it a whirl.  Encouraging signs emerged quickly.  The creature was indeed radioactive and there was a whole passel of scientists assigned to this movie.  One of them even had a New England accent so things seemed to check out.  And reassuringly the US military was available for monster eradication duty once the scientists had done the heavy lifting of analysis.  Early on a problem arose.  This creature was man shaped.  He was bald and had strange hands with hypodermic finger nails.  But he was no more than eight feet tall.  This was highly irregular and seemed to throw into doubt his qualifications for his own movie.  Also the scientists in this movie were extremely assertive and gave the military officers a lot of lip.  And it seemed they didn’t know their primary function, figure out how to kill the monster.  This was very confusing.  The leader of the scientists kept saying that regardless of how many humans the creature killed, science demanded that no force should be used against it.  He kept saying (in a really annoying intonation) that the creature “is wiser than we are” and that “it’s our duty to die to preserve the knowledge this creature possesses.”  Even as a youngster I intuited that this head scientist was what we called back then “a loser.”  How could this be?  He was a scientist!  He had the answers.  I found this very puzzling and dispiriting.  I searched for some reason for this failure on the scientist’s part to want to kill the monster.  Eventually I developed an hypothesis based on a detailed comparison of “Them” and “The Thing from Another World.”  At first glance nothing jumped out.  But once I checked the cast members it all became clear.  As mentioned above, in “Them” the part of the FBI Agent and eventual boyfriend of the scientist’s daughter is played by James Arness of “Gunsmoke” fame.  It turned out that the part of the Thing was played by none other than James Arness!  Well obviously if Arness was the prospective son-in-law of one scientist, then it stood to reason that a fellow scientist would not turn on him.  What was at work here was the kind of professional courtesy that, for instance, police confer on each other’s family members.  Now it made perfect sense.  Crisis averted.  I could become a scientist without becoming a loser.  But I was troubled by all that talk of monsters being wiser than us.  And not killing them but instead letting them kill us.  It was very strange.

Fast forward forty years.  I work as an engineer.  I am surrounded by R&D PhDs.  They all look and sound like the head scientist in “The Thing from Another World.”  They drive Priuses and have Tolerance and Coexist, Bernie and Free Tibet bumper stickers on their cars.  And suddenly it all makes sense.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2 – The Series Finale

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

 

Spoiler Alert.  If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know, don’t read this.

So, last night I watched it.  Oh, Good Lord.  The only theory that could deflect shame from everyone involved in this fiasco is if the writers had all been fired and instead the Producer’s teenage daughter wrote it, while attending a school dance, while texting her best friends, while breaking up with her boyfriend, during a hurricane.  Even as an ironic joke or as part of a drinking game (let’s say a tequila shot after each important character is brutally slaughtered) it’s unwatchable.  Rather than belabor the point with countless examples of awful television viewing let me cut to the chase.  At the climax of the show the hero is about to betray the world to the devil by surrendering to him this ultimate weapon when he is stopped by a young woman snatching it away.  He then chases her down, beats her into submission and is heading back to surrender it again when his dead mother and dead aunt calling to him from heaven shame him into a debate about fighting back.  But he’s so broken from the beating he’s been given by the devil that the only way he agrees to fight is if his mother and his aunt will fight for and with him.  Think about this for a moment.  A grown man has to be helped in a fight by his mother!  And in fact, most of the damage in the battle is done by his dead female relatives.  This truly represents the low ebb of masculinity on broadcast TV.  After the victory, there’s a sort of alternate reality scene change where all the main characters are alive again and don’t remember any of the climax as if it didn’t actually happen.  Nick starts hugging them all and seems pretty close to blubbering and it’s reminiscent of Dorothy awaking in her bed in Kansas.  “You were there and you were there, and there’s no place like home.”  Good Lord.  Then the very final scene is twenty years in the future and his son and his baby mamma’s daughter (by his mortal enemy and police chief boss) are now Grimms getting ready to head off with Mom and Dad for some good old American Wessen slaughtering.  Good clean fun.  Good Lord.

I confess I liked this show when it first came out.  My only defense is that it was in the early Obama years and I needed something absurd to allow me to think that maybe none of what was going on in the world was real.  After all, if a whole American city could be composed of monsters without any humans suspecting then maybe somehow the world would manage to escape the Obama presidency without mortal damage being done.  Silly me.  Luckily, now we’re in the age of Trump and I don’t need fantasies to distract me.  The reality is bizarre (and entertaining) enough.  So, farewell to Nick and Juliette.  Farewell to Monroe and Rosalee.  Long may you inhabit Wessen-infested make-believe Portland Oregon which is a distinct improvement over the actual horror of SJW infested Portland.

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

A eulogy is supposed to be praise spoken over the deceased at his funeral.  It literally means “good speech” in the Greek.  So technically I suppose this should be called a kakology* because I won’t be saying too much good.  Maybe what this should be called is a post-mortem.

I started watching Grimm when it premiered in 2011.  When it began I thought it was fun.  The special effects were alright and the conceit that just about everyone in Portland Oregon was a monster (called Wesen) hadn’t yet become a reductio ad absurdum.  Also, I hadn’t grown to despise most of the characters yet.

I’ll give my analysis for what went wrong with Grimm.  I think the problem with any of these urban fantasy TV series is the open-ended aspect of weekly TV.  While it is possible to advance the “mythology” component of the show toward some long-term plot line in a way that can be sustained for several seasons, the single episode plot component needs to have some interesting writing each week to prevent the show from seeming repetitive and boring.  I mean, how many ways are there to have the protagonist (Nick, the Grimm) skewer the monster du jour with a sword or a pitch fork or a lawn dart?  Eventually the look of boredom starts showing up even on the well-paid actors’ faces.  This is similar to the problem that occurs on all long-running TV shows but it’s especially dangerous to these fantasy shows because the action is already incredibly close to ridiculous from the get go.  It doesn’t take much to achieve the reductio ad absurdum I mentioned earlier.  After all, hiding the prodigious body count of terminated monsters (who revert to human form upon being deep sixed) is kind of hard to justify over the course of years.  And with just about every individual introduced in the series being a Wesen it seems laughable that they haven’t already taken over Portland and massacred Nick and his friends.

Another problem is the lack of likeability of most of the main characters.   Nick’s girl-friend (Juliette) becomes a Wesen and eventually murders and beheads his mother.  And after Juliette is killed (and then re-animated as an emotionless zombie named Eve) Nick becomes intimate with the Wesen (a hexenbiest or witch named Adalind) that was responsible for Juliette becoming evil.  Her ex-lover (Sean who also happens to be the chief of police and Nick’s boss) goes from being an enemy to an ally to a mortal foe of the good guys,  He is also the step father of Nick’s son.  Basically it’s hard to really take any of the relationships seriously or even remember how we got to where the story stands.  However, over the course of the series, the only character that I didn’t come to despise was Monroe.  Regardless of how idiotic the script that this vegan werewolf clock repairman was given, the actor managed to inject humor and interest in the character.

And finally, the biggest reason Grimm stinks is because the plots are all the same.  The variations for why Wesen were murdering the few humans that exist in Portland or each other were wholly unimportant and extremely boring.

I stopped watching the show a year ago.  When I heard it had been cancelled and only a half season was being produced this year I started watching again.  I wanted to see if a short span allowed the writers to sharpen up the plots and give us something worth watching.  So far it hasn’t.  This Friday (March 31st) is the series finale.  I’ll report back afterwards to document whether they could even salvage that.  I’m not very hopeful.

 

*I prefer transliterating the Greek letter kappa into English with the letter k instead of c.

 

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2

More Anti-Asimov Ranting

So, in my last post about Asimov I decried his descent into collectivist propaganda (Foundation’s Edge).

I will continue my diatribe here and show how Asimov devolved from an anthropocentric viewpoint to a proponent of the hive mind.

In 1950 Asimov had a short story called Misbegotten Missionary.   In the story an exploratory mission from Earth visits a world named Saybrook’s Planet that is populated by communal creatures.  Although these creatures take on all the forms needed to make up an ecosystem (microbes, plants and animals) they are all part of one consciousness.  In addition, any one of these creatures has the ability to alter all creatures around it so that all their offspring will be communal creatures too.  The explorers took precautions to protect their ship from contamination by any biological contact.  But unbeknownst to them a solitary creature has stowed away on the ship and is waiting to reach Earth to begin the conversion process.  It somehow realizes that the earth creatures monitor bacteria and the mice that they have on board to detect contamination by an alien life form.  Because of this the creature refrains from altering any of the ship’s life forms to avoid tipping off the crew.  The creature is cryptic and disguises itself as a piece of wire in an electrical circuit on the ship.  By the kind of remarkable luck that only happens in fiction (or the 2016 presidential election) the wire that the creature is connected to is in the circuit to open the ship door.  So instead of converting earth to communalism he gets fried like a death row inmate in Florida.  The conclusion has the crew discover the bullet they dodged and everyone breaths a sigh of relief.

 

Apparently, Asimov was unhappy with this result.  So, 32 years later he corrected this mistake in the Foundation sequel, Foundation’s Edge.  Searching for a mysterious unseen hand in the Foundation universe he follows clues that lead to Sayshell (not Saybrook’s Planet) where he learns of the existence of Gaia, a communal intelligence that not only is composed of all the living things on the planet but also the inanimate components too.  Now of course, this reeks of James Lovelock’s trendy 1970’s theory, The Gaia Hypothesis, that Earth was one big super-organism that had become infected with the human virus (thus the Matrix, thus Al Gore).  Apparently, Asimov had bought into this theory and saw a harmonization (read Borgian assimilation) of humanity by the communal organism as the perfect solution.  And just to make sure no one thinks assimilation is soul extinguishing oblivion, he shows us a human component of the collective who is a cheerful woman who happens to like the protagonist.  So, you see, if you glue a smiley face onto the Borg it’s all good.  And just to make sure no connection to Saybrook’s Planet is possible, the protagonist in Foundation’s Edge is not forced into the hive but gets to choose whether humanity is melted into a collective consciousness with igneous rocks and hydrogen atoms.  You see it’s totally okay!

 

Asimov displays all the symptoms of the proto-sjw that he was.  He dislikes individualism.  He admires the hive.  He desires to remove choice from the currently free.  And he dislikes all this random doing what you want to do (except probably for himself of course).  And finally to hammer home the lesson that humans can’t be left to their own devices we find out that Earth is a radioactive corpse and the whole Gaia situation is a master plan put together by a super-intelligent robot to try to save humans from themselves.

 

So my question is, what the hell happened to this doofus?  And of course, the answer is he just followed the same trajectory as most of the progressives from the thirties who admired the Soviet Union before the Cold War.  Now, Heinlein started out in that camp too.  But when he changed wives and married a conservative he changed course and rejected the hive.  I remember in his novel Methusaleh’s Children Heinlein has a world where a race exists that also possesses a collective mind.  And the humans also had to make a choice.  If they remained they would be assimilated.  Only those who feared death remained.  Obviously, these collective races are the communists.  Heinlein rejected it.  Asimov finally embraced it, much to his detriment as a writer and a man.  But it did finally earn him a Hugo.  So apparently the Hugo had also made the transition by that time.

Asimov, Then, Now and Now and Then

 

If you’ve been following the Puppy vs Pink SF saga you know that puppies come in at least two denominations; sad and rabid.  The Sad Puppies are the disciples of Larry Correia and wanted to draw attention to the incestuous log-rolling that a clique of sjw inspired authors and fans used to monopolize the results of the Hugo Awards.  The Rabid Puppies are the shock troops of Vox Day who despises these pink science fiction folk with an intensity that would be frightening if it wasn’t so hilarious.  He has spent the last two Hugo seasons stuffing the ballot box for such science fiction gems as “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle and “Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock.  But lately the Hugo Award has become routine.  To mix things up he has switched targets to concentrate on one of his favorite pink sf targets, John Scalzi.  Mr. Scalzi and Vox are old “friends.”  Scalzi was the president of the SFWA when Vox was ejected for his unsympathetic feelings toward the left wing of sf.  Vox has spent considerable time tweaking Scalzi whenever he sees an opportunity.  Such an opportunity has arisen.

Mr. Scalzi has written an homage to Asimov’s Foundation Series.  It is entitled The Collapsing Empire.  Vox under his authority as editor of the publishing company Castalia House has released a book called Corroding Empire by the interestingly named author Johan Kalsi.  Vox’s book debuted a day or so before the release date of Scalzi’s book and Amazon was forced to withdraw the Corroding Empire title based on its similar title and author name.  Whereupon Castalia has rebranded the book Corrosion and given as the author Harry Seldon (the hero of Asimov’s foundations stories).  From what I’ve read Corrosion is actually doing quite well.  How all this will turn out is anyone’s guess but as a spectator sport it has been highly entertaining.  But what about copying The Foundation story?  Is this heresy?  Should both sides be shunned?  I’ll tell you what I think.

When I was a kid Isaac Asimov was part of “The Big Three” sf writers (Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke).  I’ve written previously about Heinlein and in summary I think he remains a very important writer from the “Golden Age” and an excellent story teller with the usual exception here and there of bad work to prove that he ruled.

Back then I read all the Asimov that was available including his juvenile Lucky Starr books.  I thought he was very good and I thought his robot and Foundation books were among the best sf around.

Fast forward forty, fifty years and rereading some of these classics (specifically the Foundation Trilogy) I find, maybe not surprisingly, that they don’t hold up as remarkably well as the Heinlein books.  While the plot outline of the Foundation books is still engaging, the characters and the construction are kind of flat.  Truth be told, when I reread it I found myself rooting for the petty kings that surrounded the Foundation.  I thought it would make a more interesting story if the Mule not only reconquered the Galaxy but forced the Foundation scientists to fix his sterility and improve his health.  Thereafter he could go on to conquer the Andromeda Galaxy where there were nasty aliens that really needed their asses kicked by a telepathic mutant with a big nose which is what the story needed all along.  Sort of a galactic Game of Thrones with lots of scantily clad babes and plenty of gore.  Or something like that.

In the eighties or nineties Asimov wrote a sequel to Foundation (Foundation’s Edge).  Now remember, at that time I still thought the foundation books had been great.  I bought the sequel, read it in one sitting and was very confused.  It kind of sucked.  Asimov had become a tree hugger.  In the story the protagonist visits a planet that is based on a communal life force.  Every living thing is part of a collective consciousness.  At the end of the book the protagonist is supposed to decide whether the galaxy should be ruled by the First Foundation, the Second Foundation or Gaia (the collective tree-huggers).  He cops out to ensure a sequel but you can tell his heart is with the hippies.  My reaction was that he was a commie all along and I should go purge my collection of all Asimov.  After that he wrote some sequels to his robot books and I think at some point he merged the two series into some kind of fusion of the two.  So, what does all this mean?

It means that John Campbell gave Asimov a very good plot outline to write a story about (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (in space!) and Asimov did a very decent job with a good idea.  What it also means is that not everything from the good old days was all that good.  Asimov was famous for cranking out work at a tremendous rate.  Sometimes it shows.  Also, he doesn’t write people all that well.  Plot progression he handles pretty well.

My only other thoughts on Asimov is that he really thought robots were the solution to everything.  Once back in the late 1980’s I went to a lecture at Boston University.  The topic was the future and humanity.  Two of the speakers were brilliant physicists Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann.  Dyson had revolutionized quantum electrodynamics and Gell-Mann hypothesized the quark level of particle physics.  These guys were almost Einstein level geniuses.  Their discussion on the possibilities of human endeavor in the far future were dizzying.  Dyson was speculating on how humanity could engineer an escape from the entropic death of the universe and Gell-Mann discussed the possibilities for power generation based on the fine structure of particle physics.  The third speaker was Isaac Asimov.  He got up and said that the most important human endeavor was the creation of advanced robots.  He said when robots had the intelligence that a dog displays when it catches a ball in mid-air then all of humanity’s problems would be solved.  The other two speakers made polite noises and said that was very interesting.  But it seemed like they were embarrassed to be on the stage with this nut.  In retrospect, it’s interesting to remember that Asimov’s New York Yiddish accent made him sound a lot like Larry David.  It probably would make a fairly funny SNL skit if anyone cared about Isaac Asimov that much.  But it cemented my impression of Asimov as a doofus.  After all a robot is a tool.  No different from the invention of fire or the wheel.  It will be used and it will be abused but humans adapt to their environment and that includes the parts of our environment that we ourselves induce.

So Vox and Scalzi borrow away.  Asimov is not divine and his story was stolen from Gibbon first and handed to him by Campbell so what’s to steal?

The Pink Beetle – A Short Book Review

The Pink Beetle is a novella (it says it’s about a hundred pages) published independently by author Caspar Vega. It’s listed in the sf&f category but I think I’d call it a noir or mystery story. Mr. Vega is on Gab and I’m interested in things that aren’t sanctioned by the mainstream institutions so I figured I’d give it a try.
Well, it’s definitely different. I think the best way to describe this story is staccato. There is no attempt to use smooth transitions between scenes in the story. There are no bridge elements between the wildly different sections of the book. Beyond this the writing style is extremely spare. The scenes are like sketches. It is minimalist.
With respect to influences on the story I’d say noir is the strongest. Who is this book for? Well I can say who it’s not for. Anyone who is looking for a refined, highly structured literary story does not want The Pink Beetle. This is more like a two-reeler that went before the main attraction at your local movie house when my parents were kids.
So, did I like it? Yeah, I did. He’s got three other books in “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series” and I think I’ll try another one soon. But this is definitely one of those yes or no things. If you don’t go in expecting something that’s more than a little odd and different, you’ll be disappointed. And who knows, even if you are it still might not be your cup of tea.

The Eclectic Prince by Caspar Vega – A Short Book Review